Sid Palas: Burnout to DevOps Expert, Consultant, and YouTuber
How a Mechanical Engineer Pivoted his Career to become a Part-Time Software Consultant - Part-Time Profiles in Tech 004
This is the fourth edition of Part-Time Profiles in Tech, dropping on Tuesdays.
I love Sid’s story because it shows a very non-traditional career path. You don’t need to be a grizzled industry veteran of 20 years to become a trusted consultant or entrepreneur. Sid turned fewer than two years of software industry experience into a creator + consultant career with self-study and grit.
On a personal note, content might be slowing down over the holidays as my family is expecting another baby! I’m grateful that my new route of being an entrepreneur and working part-time allows me the flexibility to work on my own terms and create my own paternity leave!
Sid Palas is a software engineer focused on DevOps and cloud infrastructure. He splits time between helping companies build and scale their software systems and teaching DevOps topics through his YouTube channel, @DevOpsDirective, and blog.
What’s your experience with part-time work? How do you find work and clients?
My background and most of career has been in mechanical engineering and working for Lockheed Martin. I was working on control systems, which is right at the intersection of mechanical and software systems. I slowly started volunteering for more software heavy tasks (while still within the same role) until the majority of my work was writing software. Eventually I was ready to make the jump to full-time and started applying to software engineering roles.
I got a job working at a startup for about a year and a half which was my first professional exposure to DevOps.
I struggled with burnout in 2019 and decided to quit my full-time software engineering job in February 2020. I planned to take a few months off to recover before applying for full time jobs again that summer.
To keep myself busy while unemployed, I started my YouTube channel and blog as a way to continue learning, building, and teaching. Less than a month later, a friend (who happened to be the CTO of Gauntlet) saw an article I wrote that was relevant to his team's infrastructure goals. We texted about how I could help them out, and I decided that a part-time contract would be a good way to dip my toes into the employment waters again.
Working part-time and charging hourly helped me compartmentalize work in a way that I previously struggled with. When I wasn't working, I wasn't billing and didn't feel like there was always more that I could or should be doing. The initial three-month engagement was successful, and I continued working with the Gauntlet team part-time for the next two years.
In the three years since going part-time, I have worked with several startups ranging from seed stage to series C and across many industries. Some clients find me through my published content, while others are introduced by former colleagues. Each engagement is unique, but typically starts with an assessment of current bottlenecks in the team and technical systems. Working with the client, we map out a plan to address the most impactful bottlenecks, and I work closely with the team to solve those challenges.
Why is working part-time important to you?
Working part-time allowed me to return to work gradually after a period of burnout and to achieve better work/life balance than ever before. I enjoy the flexibility of being able to ramp up or down work easily and the variety of work that working with multiple companies provides.
Previously, I used the non-work time to focus on building out my YouTube channel. And now s a newly minted dad, I am taking advantage of my flexible work schedule to focus on family!
What does your compensation look like?
I mostly charge hourly because it allows more flexibility in the scope of work. This has the downside of tying my work directly to my time (rather than to outcomes), but in order to do project based pricing I would need to spend significantly more time up-front defining deliverables.
My first contract in 2020 was at an hourly rate 1.3x that of my previous W2 salary. This is not an apples-to-apples comparison because as a contractor I did not receive employee benefits, but provides a frame of reference.
As I refined the value proposition of my consulting offering (and built a portfolio of satisfied clients) I continued to charge more, with my latest contract at 2.8x that W2 salary.
YouTube ad revenue brings in a few hundred dollars a month which helps cover my production costs. I’ve also made a few thousand dollars on sponsored videos, but I’ve kept these engagements to a minimum as I don’t want to view it as “work” and keep it more of a hobby without deadlines or pressure. However, it’s nice to know that I have another potential income stream I could ramp up if I wanted to devote more energy to it.
What are the tradeoffs to working part-time vs one traditional full-time job for you?
Working as a contractor with a specific scope of work and known end date can create a social dynamic as an "outsider" who isn't truly a part of the team. It is important to establish trust quickly within the teams you are supporting to help alleviate this dynamic.
What advice do you have for someone who wants to work part-time like you?
Most of my clients have come through a combination of my personal/professional network and the content that I publish online. Establish yourself as an expert who is both enjoyable to work with and gets s*** done. Refine your pitch for why a company would want to hire you part time (and/or for a fixed duration).
For me this is usually one of 3 things:
We want help with this specific thing (architecture migration, new tooling rollout, etc...)
We have less than a FTE worth of DevOps/infra work so we don't need a full time person (yet)
We want to level-up some part of our system and you can provide experience to help set us on the right track
Are there any software products, services, or tools you use to help you work part-time?
I use Mylance to help manage accounting/tax preparation for my LLC. Taxes are confusing and stressful so it is useful to have an expert to answer my questions and get my ducks in a row.
Any advice to companies who are looking to hire great talent?
My advice to companies struggling to bring in or keep talent, start considering part-time as an option for roles - and start marketing them as that. It might be a bigger market than you think!
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